Editorial: Lawsuit reflects need for input

Plenty of Hyde Parkers may be unhappy about the proposed high-rise across from Nichols Park on 53rd Street, but just a handful of residents have decided to do something about it. As a result, a lawsuit was recently filed against the city of Chicago, claiming the zoning changes required to build the project are illegal.

The project, named Vue53 by the developers, is a large high-rise building that many consider out of scale with the neighboring properties. We have expressed concern on this page about the proposal, which is so different from the intended use of the two sites it fills that it required two zoning changes to squeeze it into the spot. Supporters of Vue53 say it will bring residents and retail to our commercial corridor.

It is never good news when a lawsuit is filed. Some grievance always precedes the act, and the parties involved have been unable to reach an amiable understanding. Nevertheless, we applaud these plucky Hyde Parkers for their determination in making their collective voice heard through whatever means are at their disposal.

While we regret these extreme measures are necessary, we are sympathetic with the position of the plaintiffs, who explained in a letter to the Herald that complaints about the scale of the building were “consistently ignored by the university.” We wonder whether university officials never suspected Hyde Parkers would go this far (if so, a terrible misreading of Hyde Parkers) or if they were prepared for this challenge. In other words, we find ourselves, like so many of our neighbors, once again trying to divine the intent of the university as it ignores the community’s concerns about redevelopment of Hyde Park.

We have been here before — with uneven results. When the university proposed a hotel at the former Doctors Hospital site, which is now the new campus expansion for Lab Schools, neighbors, once again feeling ignored by the U. of C., voted the precinct dry within which the site is located. It achieved the desired effect — the plans for the hotel were withdrawn — but left many people in the neighborhood feeling that neither the university nor the neighbors had won.

We wonder in this case whether developers whose 154-foot-tall building in Hyde Park sparked a lawsuit would therefore shy away from building a seven- or eight-story building here. On the other hand, like the lawsuit plaintiffs, we wonder what could stop 53rd Street from becoming a high-rise canyon once one 13-story building is erected.

In the end, the best outcome of this lawsuit would be a negotiation in which the building is significantly scaled down and the suit is withdrawn. In order for that to happen, though, the university would have to be willing to make a concession to neighborhood residents and ask a developer who is able to work within the constraints peculiar to academic institutions to make a lot less money. It would also require the plaintiffs to trust the university in a negotiation.

Given the current climate in the neighborhood, these conditions seem unlikely. Sadly, when neighbors refuse to sit down with each other in a spirit of goodwill, the courts are often the only alternative. In these cases, one side might prevail over the other, but rancor inevitably remains.

We urge the university to reach out to the Hyde Parkers who are suing the city to stop this project and attempt to reach a compromise. Understand that the good intentions reflected in the university’s attempts to revitalize 53rd Street are being squandered through an unwillingness to address the concerns of the community. What should be a collective, celebrated effort to remake the street is being groused about as a resented makeover handed down from the university.

Get it right — now — or hear about it for years to come.